On August 8th, 2014, 30-year-old Gable Tostee pleaded not guilty to the murder of 26-year-old Warriena Wright, who had fallen to her death from the 14th floor balcony of his Surfers Paradise apartment in the Avalon building that had a striking view of the New Zealand Gold Coast and Nerang River.
They had met on the Tinder dating app while Warriena was in town for a wedding and eager to meet cool guys; especially Gable who reminded her of Sam Winchester from the TV show Supernatural.
Being on Tinder was a way of life for Tostee who liked to brag about his sexual conquests. He had been banned from all the main Surfers Paradise nightclubs because of his unsavoury behavior, and dating sites became the last resort and ideal hangout for this strange bird who could not relate well to people, virtually or otherwise. Let’s face it, being online offers more leeway for strange encounters of all kinds.
Warriena was less experienced in the matter, but she saw her visit to the Gold Coast as an opportunity to visit the zoo, shop, explore and have an encounter on Tinder.
The night poor Warriena ended twisted like a pretzel on the sidewalk in front of his building, Tostee obviously did not want to talk to the cops so he dialed his lawyer right away without connecting with him, and then proceeded to leave his apartment to go buy a slice of pizza and call his dad to tell him: ‘There are a million cops around my building. I’m fucked.’
Click here to read his conversation with dad.
A trial ensued and Tostee’s defense argued that their client was using reasonable force to defend himself against Wright who had hit him with decorative rocks and had also tried to hurt him with a telescope clamp.
Their theory was that Gable had sequestered Warriena on his balcony and locked the door to escape her attacks, instead of showing her to the door, and she had ended up jumping to her death without any provocation or intervention from her date.
The prosecution’s argument was that Tostee intimidated Warriena to the point of physically restraining her and locking her up on the balcony and that she was so terrified that she tried to escape by jumping down.
The presiding judge, John Byrne, told jurors that to convict the defendant, they had to believe that the intimidation caused the victim to climb from the balcony and caused her death.
He also declared that the possible defenses offered to Tostee, such as self-defense, removing a disorderly person, or preventing repetition of insult, needed to be excluded for the jury to return a murder or manslaughter conviction.
What struck me the most about this investigation and the trial that ensued is that both sides agreed that Gable Tostee had not pushed Warriena off the balcony or put her on the railing.
To this day, considering the evidence and witnesses’ testimony, I do not get how they came up to this conclusion with such certainty.
Tostee is the eldest son of Gray and Helene Tostee, a wealthy couple living in Carrara in the Gold Coast’s canal region. His name was inspired by actor Clark Gable and his younger brother Tennyson was named after British poet Lord Alfred Tennyson.
As a child of privilege raised by dutiful parents, he was educated at a Christian private school where he did not excel in sports but still managed to play golf and tennis and obtain good grades.
After graduating in 2004, he worked part time as a labourer for his father’s carpet laying company and earned the decent salary of $70 an hour. Some say the high-rise apartment he occupied was paid by his father but there are conflicting reports on this.
The reason his parents remained so intertwined in his life and career is probably because of the problems he experienced through the years.
Socially awkward, Tostee’s activities tended to center on the outskirts of acceptable behavior.
In 2004, he had been caught for a fake ID racket on the Gold Coast and ended up behind bars. Tostee would produce the cards and his friend would sell them.
Police had raided his home and found images of an Australian $50 note on his computer. He had to plead guilty to charges of forgery and uttering, possessing a counterfeiting instrument and making counterfeit securities.
At the time, the Queensland judge did not record a conviction against him and put him on probation. He was told to focus on his intellectual abilities instead of pursuing illegal activities.
I would imagine that he was given a break because of his age, his social status and the fact that he was diagnosed by Dr. Curtis as having a severe, unrelieved compulsive disorder and as an emotionally estranged person who could not establish clear cut rapport with others.
The same doctor thought he had personality problems indicative of at least a partial expression of autistic spectrum disorder; Tostee was indeed very skilled, but at a disadvantage in the normal social world.
Another medical expert, Dr Derek Matthew, told the judge that Tostee had an above average intellect but was hindered by ‘behavioural problems that come partly under the umbrella of Asperger’s Syndrome with very marked obsessional compulsive and anxiety features‘.
It was also revealed that he had been seeing a psychiatrist since 2009 for treatment for ‘’insecure social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.’
The judge could not help noting that for someone with an attention deficit disorder, Tostee “was incredibly focused on himself“.
In 2015, he was jailed for six months after a confrontation with police. He had taken the cops on a drunken high speed chase driving at 200km/h with a blood alcohol reading of 0.2. The officers had to install road spikes to stop him and ended up blowing his two front tires. He travelled one kilometer before his car gave way and was finally arrested.
Consequently, his parents were growing desperate to try to shelter him and stir him in the right direction.
What his parents could not control or even imagine is the virtual world where their son was now living, probably to avoid facing the difficulties of the real world. Online, he could reinvent himself and pull strings without suffering many consequences or reactions to his increasingly reckless behavior.
He also discovered body building and became a frequent guest on the forums of bodybuilding.com where he was known as GT and is still getting a lot of support.
Tostee who had adamantly refused to talk to police during the investigation, decided to defend himself just a few months after the tragic death of Warriena by writing a post titled ‘’Regarding the balcony tragedy’’
Tostee met most of his conquests on dating apps and Tinder became the link that connected him to Warriena. They were not the only ones using the virtual world, this trial was almost aborted after a juror posted about it on Instagram. Not to mention all the discussions that took place in private Facebook groups and other social media sites.
Warriena Tagpuno Wright who was 26 at the time of her death, was born in Bulacan, a province in the Philippines. After her mother Merzabeth Tagpuno moved to New Zealand when she was about a year old, they settled on a state housing estate in Porirua, north of Wellington. Mom worked as a bookbinder and became a deacon at the Seventh Day Adventist Church where she enrolled Warriena and her sister Marreza.
Their childhood was simple with no perks. The two sisters grew extremely close following difficult family circumstances. Contrary to Tostee, they were not born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and could only count on each other for support.
‘It had always been the two of us together,’ Marreza told New Idea magazine. ‘We’re not that close with our parents and we had never lived apart.
‘Her main goal was for us to buy our own home where we felt safe. That’s all she wanted for me, to be safe.’
Warriena had worked at PixiFoto in Porirua and went on to work in the credit card division at Kiwibank. She had taken time to attend a former co-worker’s wedding and had decided to stay on for a holiday.
While in Surfers, and after the wedding, Warriena spent time with childhood friend Savana Lesa who later spoke about their last days together.
“We were hanging out, taking selfies relaxing on the beach, visiting the tallest building in Australia, cruising around and talking about the good times we had together as buddy ole pals making the best of our time together.”
Back on August 1, when Wright was looking at Tinder on her cellphone, she had come across a guy she liked the look of and swiped her phone to the right. It was Gable Tostee and he exchanged text messages with her over the next few days and even arranged a date for the evening of August 8th. The rest as they say, is now history with a touch of mystery.
Fatal Tinder date
At 8:45pm on August 8th, 2014, street security cameras captured the meeting of Warriena and Gable outside a surf shop. A short time later, they were seen entering the Surfers Paradise Tavern’s beer garden, presumably to buy alcohol even if they came out empty handed. Their next stop was to buy a six-pack of beer nearby.
At 8.58pm, they were caught on camera at his apartment building, walking up the stairs and into an elevator. How ominous when you know what happened shortly after.
Warriena stayed at Gable’s pad for 321 minutes. At trial, we heard tales of heavy drinking which was proven by the blood alcohol level of Warriena that was three times over the legal limit. It was revealed that they had to take fluid from her eyes for the test that returned a reading of 0.156. A sample from her chest cavity returned a higher result but it was dismissed because of possible contamination.
Tostee was only tested 14 hours after the incident and it hindered the results.
The defense’s argument was that they became intimate until things went south and Tostee asked her to leave, locking her on the balcony when she became “psycho”.
Police testified at trial that after Warriena drank a large amount of Tostee’s home-distilled vodka, he attacked her, then proceeded to lock her outside, ignoring her screams and pleas to go home.
During testimony, we heard that she was terrorized to the point of climbing over the balcony to escape and that she fell to her death at 2.21am.
Tostee made a phone recording of the hours leading up to Warriena’s death that became the most crucial piece of evidence at the murder trial.
He started recording the events in his apartment, as he often did, and the audio provided an insight into what happened that evening.
His attorney, Nick Dore, said he never asked his client why he recorded three hours of his date with Warriena.
A police transcript of the recording gives minute-by-minute detail into the hours before the tragic death.
A lot of drunk rambling goes on but it is interesting to note that Tostee mentions falling from the balcony or throwing her off the balcony several times. He once had the chalk outline of a dead body on his cell phone. For some reason, he seemed focused on this. Knowing his compulsive personality, it makes me wonder if he had been obsessing over this macabre event for a while.
1.06am: Wright says she loves people and that ‘she is all good with dying’
1.07am: Wright says ‘I know you want to kill me because you told me so.’ Further reference to dying from smoking.
1.08am: Further conversation about galaxies, travel to Alice Springs, religion and gods.
1.09am: Tostee says that he ‘doesn’t think there is anything after this, you die and that is it’ and says, ‘throw me off the balcony and that is it. This is it, boom.’
And as the night progresses
.35.31am: The music stops.
1.35.40am: Wright says: ‘Where is my sister’s s***? Where is all my f***ing data? Where is my iPhone?’ Tostee says, ‘do you want me to ring it?’ Wright: ‘Yes, I would love you to f***ing ring it.’
1.36.19am: Tostee: ‘Hey I didn’t say you have to leave. I said that you have to stop beating me up.’ Heated conversation.
1.36am: Wright: ‘Are you going to f***ing untie me because I will f***ing destroy your jaw. It is not f****ing funny … ‘Get it for me’. Tostee: ‘No, you get it.’ Wright: ‘I am going to call the police.’
1.37.21am: Repeats she is going to call the police.
1.38am: Wright: ‘Cmon Cletus.’
1.38am: Wright: ‘I am going to call the police.’ Tostee: ‘What are you looking for? Where is my money? How are you going to call the police without your phone?’
1.39.13am: Tostee: ‘Your phone must be out of battery … it must be out on the balcony.’
As it turned out, her phone was in Tostee’s pocket, but he wanted her to go get it on the balcony.
1.49am: Tostee says that people with white coats are going to come in and states that she would jump off the balcony.
There we go again with the balcony. How could this sound like a coincidence?
2.10am: Sound of a struggle. Wright: ‘That really hurt my vagina.’ Tostee laughing and female replies: ‘You sound like a f*****’.
Tostee also tells Warriena “you’re lucky I haven’t chucked you off my balcony, you goddamn psycho bitch” and later on comes the choking, the apology and the pleading to go home.
2.17.49am: ‘Cmon, get up. Get up’. Wright states, ‘I am so sorry’. Tostee states, ‘ I don’t care’. Struggling. Tostee: ‘you don’t understand do ya. You don’t understand anything at all do you.’
Struggle. Tostee states, ‘let go. You think that you hit me and I was going to fall down like in the movies’. More laboured breathing sounds. He states, ‘let go of it. Let go. Let go.’ More choking sounds.
2.20.46am: Tostee: ‘Who the f*** do you think you are? Hey?’ Wright: ‘No, no, no. No! No no no.’
Tostee: ‘You tried to kill me huh? Well, why did you try and hit me with that. Huh? Shut your filthy mouth.’
Wright: ‘No, no, no, no, no. (screaming).’
Tostee: ‘It is all on recording you know. It is all being recorded.
Wright: ‘No no no no no no no no no no no no. Just let me go home.’
Tostee: ‘I would but you have been a bad girl.’ Sound of door sliding shut.
2.20am: Wright: ‘Just let me go home. Just let me go home.’ Last words of ‘just let me go home’. Tostee- heavy breathing. Faint scream detected.
2.21.50am: Tostee makes call to lawyer Mick Purcell.
Some say that without this tape Tostee would have been toast, but as we do not have a video of the events, we can only go with what he says and use our common sense.
It is obvious that he is keeping her from breathing and saying things that do not correspond with the reality of his actions. She is not the one trying to kill him, because she is being choked. He is setting up the scene.
He is enraged and as she apologizes and asks to go home, there is absolutely no reason to restrain her and put her on the balcony. She is drunk on his homemade brew. How do we know what it contained? They did not bother analyzing it so we will never know how badly intoxicated she was except for the alcohol level in her blood.
How is he not responsible for loading her with this brew causing the unexplained behavior that she displays during the night? Throwing decorative rocks and being rough does not make her a threat. He took her phone and is manhandling her. The only acceptable action on his part would have been to let her leave.
Tostee confessed to his father that he tackled Wright to the ground, and then the recording appears to back up the prosecution’s argument that he then locked her on his balcony. He also told his dad: ” She kept drinking and I think she thought it was like a joke or something but she kept beating me up and whatever. It was because she was really drunk.”
And after hearing this, his defense attorney has the nerve to say in court that his client acted like a gentleman.
Moments later, Wright falls to her death.
The recording then hears Tostee leaving the apartment and calling his father.
“I met up with a girl for a date … she started getting really aggressive. We had sex in bed and then after that she kept drinking.”
When you take into consideration that she is much smaller than he is and totally drunk and acting erratically because of his crappy booze, it makes no sense to deduct that this guy did not have the upper hand. Plus, he admits that she was ‘jokingly‘ hitting him -nothing really threatening.
I also do not see how they could have deducted that he did not put her on the ledge railing. He had plenty of time to do this and no witness saw what happened on the balcony.
Multiple witnesses have testified to hearing Wright’s screams, describing them as terrifying.
“It wasn’t just an ordinary scream. It was a terrified scream,” James Evans, who was nearby the apartment block.
He says he then heard a “large bang” before seeing a man, who has since been identified as Tostee, running from the building.
Another witness, Nick Casey, was visiting a friend two floors down from Tostee’s apartment and heard Wright’s cries for help.
“I heard her say, ‘I want to go home’. I heard her say, ‘help’ and at that point I said to her, ‘go back inside’ and it wasn’t long after that she fell,” he told the court.
“She fell off straight past where I was standing on the balcony and ricocheted off a few balconies below us and kept on going to the ground,” he said
The biggest red flag or smoking gun was the testimony of Emily Ellis who lived below Gable Tostee’s apartment. She provided a graphic re-enactment of Warriena’s fatal fall.
Police re-enacted the fall by lowering a female officer over the balcony of Tostee’s apartment in the days following her death.
What is amazing about her testimony is the fact that she saw Warriena go down with her back facing the balcony and not the other way around like the photo circulating in the media.
‘I heard a girl say “I just, I just want to go home, please let me go home ” and she was quite scared,’ Ellis said in the re-enactment for detectives.
She saw her ‘legs dangling’ from above and then said, ‘Oh God, she’s coming over’
‘I’ve said “I don’t, l don’t know what, what is she doing? Like I don’t know what she’s doing“.
‘Her legs were there first … it wasn’t a lowering or a gentle, cautious … she wasn’t hanging on, she wasn’t facing that way … she wasn’t facing that way to hold on.’
The police then repositionned the female officer re-enacting Warriena’s fall, so that her ‘feet were pointing away from the building, her back was towards the building … and she was a little bit lower’.
Ellis agreed that the female officer was in the right position and said Wright had been ‘flush against the building’.
None of the witnesses saw what happened on the balcony so how could they know if Tostee did not put her on the ledge before going back inside?
The most crucial witness said that she had her back flush against the building with her feet pointing away from the building. The photo circulating shows Warriena with her feet pointing towards the building.
Ellis also says that Warriena was twisting her body. The only way she came down this way is if she was left sitting on the railing and in her state of terror, tried to lower herself by twisting her body in the other direction before falling. She was hysterical with fear as we all heard on the tape. That they would conclude that Tostee had nothing to do with her death after this re-enactment is hard to believe.
The audio sounded like he was with her during most of the screaming and it is logical to think that if put on the ledge, she would not have been able to hold on. Why would she scream bloody murder if he had simply deposited her on the balcony floor and retreated? The man was choking her and refusing to let her go because she was a bad girl. If that is not unlawful confinement, what is? She had threatened to call the cops which could have meant prison for him. He had clearly lost control.
During the trial, the jury was kept from hearing all the details about Tostee’s past to make sure it would not taint their decision.
They were not told about his weird and numerous sexual encounters and his problems with the law, or that a girl ran out of his apartment in fear after spending time with him on the balcony.
‘Had a 21-year-old Tinder date come over for drinks, we’re getting along fine, start kissing, feeling each other.’
‘She’s small so I go to hug and lift her up and take her inside from the balcony but she totally freaks out, mumbles something about getting back to her parents and bolts out the door. Deletes me off both Tinder and FB.
‘Maybe I acted too abruptly and snapped her out of her little lust-trance by manhandling her.’
The chalk outline of a dead body on his cell phone and jokes and poems about a gun and his van would have been considered character assassination.
What mattered was if Warriena died because of Tostee’s actions.
After taking in all the arguments and evidence presented at trial, the jurors started deliberations. After admitting they were having trouble reaching a verdict, they were told by Justice John Byrne to listen carefully and objectively to each other and go back for further deliberations. They came back several times with questions for him.
Pushing for a verdict even if jurors are deadlocked is not a practice I usually condone, but it is very frequent because judges obviously want a to see the case resolved. If these people did not find ways to come to an understanding, I do not see how they can change their mind with the same evidence unless they cave to get out of there.
The first question asked by jurors was “at which point on the audio recording Tostee made is it regarded as removing a disorderly person from his property.”
“It does not matter when,” Justice Byrne replied.
The jury asked if Tostee putting Ms Wright on his balcony constituted removing her from his property.
Justice Byrne’s reply was brief. “Yes, he answered.”
When asked if Ms Wright’s level of intoxication when she died was a factor they must take into account when determining if her decision to climb over Tostee’s balcony was rational and reasonable, Justice Byrne answered “A jury of your accumulated experience of life scarcely needs a judge to point out that excessive consumption of alcohol can impair judgment … People, when drunk do things, they would not when sober.”
The good judge was right to a certain extent, but even drunk as a skunk, nobody jumps off a building unless their life is threatened.
One can only think of the people jumping from the Twin towers in New York to avoid burning alive. The jury was totally in their right mind when they asked him the question, and his answer should not have been so condescending and simplistic.
They also asked Byrne if Tostee’s language could be considered as force.
“The short answer is no,” Justice Byrne replied.
He told jurors not to be concerned with the ‘’physical force’’ used by Tostee, and whether it was more than reasonably necessary. He went on to say that only physical force used to move Warriena to the balcony should be regarded as force.
Interesting comments considering that most of the case presented by prosecutor Glenn Cash was based on ‘more force than reasonably necessary,’ ‘unnecessary force to restrict her breathing’ and ‘physical intimidation considering her size. ‘Force to keep her pinned to the ground’ and ‘Intimidating comments’.
The fact that the prosecution and defense had agreed that Tostee had not done anything else than put her on the balcony, left the jury with very little wiggle room to work with if you eliminate the abject terror caused by his forceful actions and words.
I was baffled by some of the road blocks Justice Byrne made sure to impose on the jury and by the fact that pathologist Diane Little said that red marks on the victim’s neck could not be linked to manual strangulation because of no evidence of muscle or bone injury. She did not die of strangulation and being smothered for a short time does not necessarily lead to these injuries.
It seems that defense barrister Saul Holt focused mostly on the psycho bitch argument. Warriena was acting erratically, attacked poor Gable who had to lock her on the balcony to get away from her.
“Massively drunk” Ms Wright said and did erratic and irrational things entire evening, (she was) “out of control”
Tostee managed “craziness” of person he’d only just met with patience, gentlemanly manner.
Tostee lawfully permitted to restrain her because she attacked him with rocks in his own home.
If there ever was a case of slut shaming and victim blaming, this one fits the bill.
The judge and the prosecution decided to put the blame entirely on Warriena’s drinking and actions. As if Gable was untouchable. Was it because she was a Maori girl? A case of rich man justice? Did they value the defendant’s life over hers because he is from the right side of the tracks?
Considering his behavior with women on Tinder, his rap sheet, his disastrous social interactions, his obsession with a fall off the balcony, and the fact that he fed her the booze, choked and forcefully contained her before putting her outside, this is shocking beyond words.
As to be expected, the jury returned a not guilty verdict; their hands literally tied by the judge’s instructions and the agreement made by both sides not to accuse him of pushing or putting her in danger on the balcony.
Gable Tostee logged back on to Tinder just days after Warriena Wright’s death.
Two months after Tostee (now Eric Thomas) was found not guilty in the death of the New Zealand woman, the Queensland state coroner reopened the investigation into her death. “The Coroner will be reviewing all the documentation before making a decision whether to hold an inquest,” a State Coroner’s Office spokesman told News Corp.
A charge such as deprivation of liberty could still potentially be recommended by the coroner in the case.
Tostee’s lawyer was quick to point out that these inquests are very rare in Queensland so it seems unlikely that it will happen.
He gave a paid interview to 60 minutes and for a while, had a girlfriend named Lizzi Evans who publicly bashed Warriena for being a psycho.
They have since parted ways, and dear Lizzi now thinks that she might have been a bit hasty in defending the guy. They are now both claiming to have dumped the other.
Eric Thomas is now an architecture student and from the look of it, his obsessive compulsive disorder seems to have shifted to food.
He now proudly publishes photos of himself eating giant plates of food and even won the challenge of drinking a 5 litre ‘Godfather’ milkshake at a Gold Coast café. You can click here to read about his food exploits.
He has gained virtual female admirers eager to praise his gargantuan appetite and good looks.
Wright’s mom went back home very upset that the tape of her daughter’s last moments was made public, leaving her with nothing to offer the media. She wants to close this chapter.
How sad that this poor girl’s life was cut short so tragically, and is now news fodder and just a blip on her assailant’s radar.
No lessons learned here, but maybe a warning of the dangers of swiping your phone a little too fast on the right and of judging a date by its virtual cover.
As a proponent of restorative justice, I have to throw in the towel on this one. You need an admission of guilt and remorse or at least some regret and compassion for the victim to redeem yourself, and so far, except for a futile online post, we have not seen a concrete iota of it.